Chapter 9 of Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad by Ann Petry begins with a tone of hopeful expectation. It is 1843, and Harriet is sewing a patchwork quilt. She is getting married to John Tubman, and she is very much in love with him. Although he is a free man and she is a slave, he wants to marry her anyway, and Harriet is caught up in dreams of their life together.
Yet at the same time, the story contains an undertone of unease that foreshadows struggles to come. Harriet is not particularly good at sewing, and she keeps dropping her needle. The stubborn needle becomes a symbol of stubbornness and trials that will enter into her relationship with John in the future.
As the chapter progresses, Harriet and John marry, but hard times come to the plantation on which they live, and the tale's tone darkens. Harriet begins to fear that she and the other slaves will be sold South and that she will be separated from John. She develops an idea and a longing, and readers can feel her desire through the story's tone as Harriet wishes to go north to freedom.
A note of horror enters into the narrative as Harriet dreams of slave traders and screaming women and children being carried away from their home. Then she dreams of flying and of women in white pulling her across some barrier blocking her path.
John dislikes his wife's dreams and even insults her because of them. Their relationship begins to decline, and the story's tone darkens further to one of suspicion, anger, and fear as the couple loses trust in each other. Harriet cannot understand why John does not want her to be free. John threatens to tell the master if Harriet makes even one move toward freedom. Harriet is badly hurt, and readers feel her pain, for she can no longer trust the husband she has loved so much.